The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors delayed a decision on the ordinance allowing county residents to cook and sell meals from their home kitchens after many Santa Maria city leaders voiced concerns. 

The proposed ordinance allows micro-enterprise home kitchen operations as a new category of retail food facilities, and if approved, the Board will authorize the Environmental Health Services to permit these operations in all areas of its jurisdiction.

The home kitchens would be allowed to store, handle, and prepare a limited number of meals for direct sale to consumers. Under the ordinance, the kitchens would be permitted to prepare no more than 30 meals per day and no more than 60 meals per week.

This ordinance is similar to the Cottage Food Industry, which already allows residents to use their kitchens to make and sell certain foods that do not require refrigeration, such as jams, jellies, baked goods, dried foods, and some confections. Cottage Food Operators must obtain a permit from Environmental Health Services to sell food from their homes.

The micro-enterprise home kitchen ordinance was on the March 9 agenda and several people from Santa Maria called in during public comment asking the Board of Supervisors to delay approval. 

“If approved, this ordinance will allow residential properties to convert restaurants without many of the public health and safety requirements generally proposed on restaurants and other food facilities,” Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino said. 

“We are very concerned about our health and safety problems, further deteriorating zoning laws in residential neighborhoods create inequities with the traditional brick and mortar restaurants.”

Patino said that for decades the city has discovered violations of illegal kitchens selling unsafe food out of “dirty kitchens, garages, and, yes, backyards.” 

“We have seen beef jerky in the back of a pick-up truck and tamales being made in bathtubs,” she continued.

Micro-enterprise home kitchens will raise a greater risk for fire and sewer overflows, yet many buildings, zoning, and mitigation for increased grease production or fire suppression requirements can not be required, Patino said.

“Under the proposed ordinance, micro kitchens can basically operate in the city with few regulations and avoid paying taxes to support city services,” she added.

Joy Castaing, Santa Maria’s code enforcement supervisor, said the ordinance does not account for public safety precautions related to fire, building code and sewer systems. 

“These operations are in clear conflict with our current permitted home occupation laws and sets an unfair advantage to everyone who is currently operating with licenses and permits,” Castaing said. “This is also a time when our current restaurant facilities are struggling to survive and will potentially create a mechanism that will provide an additional unfair advantage to an already-stressed industry.”

Terri Strickland, from the Reopening Central Coast Business Coalition, said the county has not done enough outreach about the ordinance. “There are so many questions we have, it just seems like it’s an uneven playing field for everybody,” she said.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, whose district includes Santa Maria, pulled the ordinance from the administrative agenda so board members could have a full discussion on it. 

“I think there was confusion regarding this ordinance, I was interested in moving this ordinance because I think these businesses are already in place,” Lavagnino told Noozhawk. “I want to bring them under the regulatory umbrella so we do have people going out and making sure we have the proper sanitary conditions.”

Lavagnino also said he wants to make sure the county has enough staff members to enforce the ordinance, and clarify on-site consumption rules for the businesses. 

“I really didn’t envision this to be about bringing 30 people over for some big meal,” he said. “In Santa Maria, there’s not a lot of parking on the streets, so that would be problematic.”

Lavagnino noted that local restaurants have been “beaten down” this past year due to the implementation of COVID-19 safety restrictions, and that this ordinance is “just another straw in the camel’s back” for restaurant owners.

However, once county departments conduct more outreach with the local city government, Lavagnino said that he support this ordinance.

“I don’t think what we’re doing is allowing these kitchens to open, I think they’re already in place and we need to make sure that they are operating in a safe condition,” he told Noozhawk.

“We have been as a county trying to offer people more and more opportunities to generate revenues in their home,” said Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann. “I think this is part of a larger societal trend where individual entrepreneurs are rising.”

“This ordinance is essentially a way to legalize the home kitchens who are operating safely and have an enforcement mechanism for the ones that don’t,” said First District Supervisor Das Williams.

The Board of Supervisors voted to continue this item until May 11. 

Noozhawk staff writer Jade Martinez-Pogue can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.